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Hope amid horror in the Shafia trial

January 29, 2012 1 comment

The verdict, when it came on a quiet Sunday afternoon, was not unexpected; Guilty of first degree murder. Mohammad Shafia, his second wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed Shafia, guilty on all four counts in the deaths of the three Shafia girls and Mohammad’s first wife of a polygamous marriage, Rona Amir Mohammad.

I had passed by the Frontenac County Court house in Kingston, Ontario, many times during the trial. Tempted as I was to observe part of the trial, I did not. The thought of seeing the accused in their glass enclosed dock, and hearing the evidence of the horrific killing of the four victims, left me chilled. I had no professional need to observe their demeanor or to hear the evidence first-hand.

The verdict brings to a close a tragic and troubling three-month trial that has no precedent in Canadian judicial history. That a mother, father and a brother, in Canada by virtue of this country’s open acceptance of people from around the world, would act on cultural/religious concepts that are reprehensible to Canadians, is a betrayal of the very principles under which they were allowed to come among us.

The concept of “honour killing” to avenge the immodest or unchaste behavior of female family members — and thereby clear the “honour” of the male heads of the family — is an entrenched fact among certain Muslim societies. That the Shafia family came from Afghanistan (via Australia and Dubai) is especially ironic when set against the sacrifice of Canadian and other Western soldiers in support of equality and human rights in their home country.

Mr. Justice Maranger, in imposing the mandatory sentence of 25 years without eligibility for parole, commented powerfully on their acts:

“It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous crime…the apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honour … that has absolutely no place in any civilized society.”

There is every indication that the vast majority of Muslims in Canada would support the verdict. Yet there remains a refusal, among certain Canadian elements as well as some strands of the Muslim community, to accept the unique nature of the acts that led to the deaths of four innocent females.

Their reasoning goes something like this; The crimes, while appalling, are really no different from any other acts of violence against women. “Don’t call them honour killings,” goes this refrain.

The words of Mohammad Shafia put the lie to this specious reasoning.

“They betrayed us immensely,” the police tapes of a conversation between Shafia and his wife show him saying.  “They violated us immensely. There can be no betrayal, no treachery, no violation more than this. They betrayed Islam, they betrayed our religion and creed, they betrayed everything. They brought about their rightful deaths.”

Shafia must have been thinking of Verse 4-34 of the Koran:

“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more strength than the other, and because they support them from their means … As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds (and last) beat them (lightly.)”

Knowing how the Christian Bible can be interpreted in so may different and often conflicting ways, it is not surprising that these words would be taken by some to justify murderous acts against female family members.

Yet there is hope in this horror.

Once again, we see evidence of the powerful effect of freedom on people brought from oppressive societies. Zainab, who was 19, Sahar at 17, and especially the rebellious Geeti, just 13, had all been exposed to Western values, and all had eagerly embraced the universal desire for freedom and self-expression. Even “sad, doomed, betrayed Rona,” at 52, sought the protection of Western values.

The hope is that the yearning for freedom among girls and women all over the world will someday put an end to the evil distortions of culture and tradition that bring about such crimes as honour killings. We hope the deaths of Zainab, Sahar, Geeti and Rona, have not been entirely in vain.

Sunken ships and dirty oil

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

UPDATE: President Obama’s denial of a permit for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, on the grounds that the Republican-dictated Feb. 21 deadline does not allow sufficient time for a proper environmental review, is likely just the first in a series of setbacks for pipeline proponents.

They’re happenings half a world apart — the grounding of the cruise liner Costa Concordia off the Italian coast, and the hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline, being held in Kitimat, British Columbia.

What links them is the prospect of tanker groundings in the pristine waters of the 130-kilometre long Douglas Channel. It’s this fear that is motivating B.C. native groups and environmentalists to oppose the plan of Enbridge Inc. to pipe crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the B.C. coast. The scheme calls for new port faclities at Kitimat that would permit more than 200 tankers a year to ply Douglas Channel en route to Pacific destinations, mainly China.

The case against the oil sands (or tar sands as they were known before  oil industry’s PR machine got to work) is eloquently made by Alberta author Andrew Nikiforuk in his book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent.

Nikiforuk does more than criticize. While declaring that the pace of oil sands development represents a political emergency, he offers up a 22-point plan to avert disaster, both environmentally and economically.

His arguments need to be taken into account by the National Energy Board in its hearings that opened in Kitimat last week. It’s going to take two years for the NEB to reach a decision. Even then, no matter what  it recommends, the decision could be overturned by the pro-oil Harper cabinet in Ottawa.

From what we’ve heard out of Ottawa, the hearings could turn out to be an exercise in  futility.

They got off to a rocky start with that infamous open letter from the minister of natural resources, Joe Oliver, pointing the finger at “environmental and other radical groups ” w0rking with “foreign special-interest groups” in opposition to the pipeline.

That line was set down last fall by Prime Minister Harper when he warned against “American interests trying to line up against the Northern Gateway project.” Another indication that nothing happens in Ottawa without Mr. Harper’s fingerprints on it.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the foreign money of international oil companies who are spending large sums in Canada to back the project. That’s because their cause is in the “national interest,” according to Harper & Company.

Northern Gateway is about more than the pipeline, however. It’s about the morality — and the long-term economic consequences — of the environmental degradation caused by extracting oil from the tar sands.

The premier of Alberta, Alison Redford, was quite accurate when she suggested that some opponents are primarily motivated by a desire to stop or slow down the oil sands.

Pipelines are the only way to get the oil out. Stop the pipelines and you stop the oil sands.

The delay in approving the Keystone XL line in the States — a prospective key carrier of oil sands crude to the Gulf of Mexico — is a serious setback to the hopes of oil sands proponents.

A strong argument can always be made for the jobs and other economic benefits that flow from exploitation of natural resources.

We need to argue equally strongly against destroying our planet to feed the voracious beast of oil consumption. The best way for North America to achieve energy self-sufficiency is to consume less, not produce more. Will anyone make that argument to the National Energy Board?

What the Liberals should be thinking about

January 6, 2012 Leave a comment

The Liberal Party national convention in Ottawa next week could  be a milestone on its  road back to power in Canada — but only if Liberals forget about power for the moment and instead put policy first.

How do you separate the two?

Look for what delegates spend the most  time on — figuring out process that they hope will help them win an election, or fathoming what kind of policies will warrant their eventual return to office.

Process involves such things as leadership selection and voting rules. All important stuff,  but which should be disposed of pretty quickly.

One quick step that could be taken would be to abolish the strictures that have been set on Bob Rae as interim leader. The rules say he can’t stand for permanent leader, and that he’s not allowed to enter into any dialogue with the NDP that might culminate in a merger.

Both are unreasonable restrictions, and should be dropped.

As to opening up leadership selection to a primary style vote, letting anyone cast a vote who is prepared to say they support the Liberal party, I think that’s a good idea. People who take advantage of that will be more likely to join the party and support it financially in the future.

But it’s policy, not process, that will carry the Liberal party back to power, if that’s ever going to happen. Liberals will have to address important issues that are generally considered too hot to handle. It’s the failure of the parties to address these kinds of issues that has led, I believe, to both the poor voter turn-out of recent elections, and the increasingly negative view we hold of our politicians.

A few examples:

1. The militarization of Canada. At a time when the U.S. is preparing to strip a trillion dollars out of its defense budget, the Harper government seems determined to pick up the pieces. Ordering F-35 “first strike” planes for which we should have no use is a colossal waste of taxpayer money, at a time when the country is struggling to get out of deficit.The Harper government seems to have become the prisoner of what U.S. President Eisenhower warned against when he left office in 1961 — the “military-industrial complex.”

When you have the Prime Minister and his Minister of Defence, Peter McKay, going before the annual convention of Canadian arms makers — the Conference of Defence Associations — as they will do again in February to explain their military intentions — it’s difficult to come to any other conclusion that they are indeed prisoners of said military-industrial complex.

The Liberal party should set out — as the NDP has done — a vigorous set of alternative policies in defence and foreign policy.

2. The war on drugs. This is another great issue that’s damaging the country — in terms of ruined lives, sky-high policing costs, and ever-growing investments in bigger prisons. Witness the Harper government’s new “tough on crime” approach. Better to call it “stupid on crime.” Liberals should demand a medical focus on the problem of improper drug use, a strategy that would have a far greater prospect of success in bringing the drug problem to resolution than the present approach. Treat the drug addict medically — just as we need to act on the medical problems that bring large numbers of mentally-ill prisoners to our jails.

It’s fine for Liberals to be addressing the future of the monarchy, and calling for a an all-party committee to consider replacing the Crown with a Canadian head of state. But not a whole lot of people really care too much about that, one way or the other. We’re not suffering as a nation because we pay allegiance to the Queen.

3. Justice for Canada’s “First Nations.” We can no longer, in conscience, tolerate the conditions under which native Canadians live. I was involved in a study a decade ago, for the Canadian Council on Native Business, that showed aboriginals in this country are actually WORSE OFF than when the first Europeans arrived four hundred years ago. We need to begin by investing people on the reserves with some responsibility for their own lives, rather than being forced to accept Ottawa’s dictates. The Liberal party should develop a clear, practical policy with this native self-responsibility as its goal.

How about it, Liberals? Let’s start focusing on some REAL issues for a change.

Categories: Politics, Uncategorized